We lost JD Salinger today and Twitter and the rest of the Web are full of memories – from a friend who named the plant in her first apartment Esme to another complaining about Salinger’s alleged attitudes toward (some) women.
I learned long ago though, to “hate the sin and love the sinner” when it comes to art – and that’s particularly true when all the stories are rumors anyway. And Salinger was so much a part of my young adulthood that to renounce him would be like walking away from The Great Gatsby, or Testament of Youth. Like them, Salinger helped me figure out where I belonged, and who else lived there.
All I wanted when I was a kid was to be Franny Glass. To be part of the Glass family, intellectual, quirky, and with lists of beautiful quotes on a poster board on the back of their bedroom door. They were sad and weird and wonderful.
And now, today, we lose their creator, most beloved for Holden Caulfield, the eternally adolescent hero of Catcher in the Rye. Holden is worthy of every affectionate word written about him, and his palpable pain is familiar to those who’ve journeyed through the teen years, but the Glasses — well — they were a different kind of lovely.
They are all the children of one man, and he died today. I wish I could tell you what it felt like to read Catcher in the Rye at 13. I can remember where I was sitting as I read it – how I felt – and the deep sadness that accompanied Holden’s story. It must have been traumatic though, because later, when my son and I read it together, I was shocked to learn that Holden’s brother had died. I had jammed that fact someplace hard to reach, which means it was even more disturbing than I remember. Reading it with my own child was a beautiful experience to share with a young man of deep compassion and great sensibility – a memory I cherish. So Salinger gave me that, too.
(I’m not mentioning Joyce Maynard here. She had a right – but sheesh!) And I really don’t have much to say about the quiet recluse in the hills of New Hampshire. Farewell to him, yes, but also to yet another connection to the days when I was young – and more like Holden than like women of a Certain Age. The passions, the pain, the poetic anger at people for not being what we expect them to be and the desperate longing to rescue the imperiled and the lost.
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
I guess those who don’t dream of being the catcher long to be the one who is caught. And those longings don’t go away whether you’re 13 or 63 (right – I first read it FIFTY years ago!) Imagine. No, it doesn’t go away, but your perspective changes. The loveliness of that kind of protecting — or being protected – it isn’t around much in the real world. All the more reason to be grateful for the rare observer who can remind us of its sweetness, and of what we are capable of aspiring to.
And grateful I am. For Franny and Zooey and Seymour and all their craziness and for Holden, what he gave me then, and what I remember, even today.
For another, more ”millennial” perspective, read this by Women’s Rights blogger Amelia Thomson-Deveaux
A version of this post appeared on Ms. Samuels personal blog.